Josh Bodwell has just completed his first year as executive director of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. It is a fitting match. Both Bodwell and MWPA were born in 1975, and both are dedicated, through and through, to literature and the writing life.
Bodwell’s conversation exudes enthusiasm for every aspect of literary creation and production. In the MWPA office at University of Southern Maine, most of an afternoon slipped by unnoticed as we discussed Maine’s writing world and what led Bodwell to his current position.
Bodwell’s rich and varied career, which he credits in part to “accidental networking,” suited him perfectly for his current position; he has worked in nearly every aspect of writing and publishing. Even more important is his keen sensitivity to the depth and breadth of the human experience. He balances intellect and humility in such a way that opens him to ideas and people, enriching his work both on and off the page.
It was at Kennebunk High School that Bodwell first learned the power of the written word. “The Rambler” was Kennebunk’s sanctioned school newspaper. On a whim one day, Bodwell and two friends created an “underground” paper and called it “The Gambler.” The results exceeded the boys’ expectations. The paper won them both a devoted following and disciplinary action. The same literary efforts that earned them invitations to speak to an audience also earned them school suspensions.
“We got to see adults arguing about what we had done. There was a lot of anger. You start to understand the ramifications of the written word.”
The attention was both exciting and scary. Driven by the impulsiveness of youth, their writing was occasionally more incendiary than noble, and Bodwell was sobered by the cautionary remarks of an adult he respected: “You guys have captured the attention of your peers and you’re wasting it.”
It was a deeply formative experience.
After high school, Bodwell put off college for what he thought would be a year. He never did get around to college, but the paths he followed gave him an education and a body of knowledge worthy of advanced degrees. Bodwell did some wandering, “but I was never aimless. I always knew what I wanted to do.”
While writing as often as he could, Bodwell paid the bills by doing menial labor. Those real-life experiences informed his writing with a greater depth. He described one assembly line job that was particularly eye opening. He saw firsthand that people from vastly divergent circumstances might end up in the same place: “On one side of me was a guy who had been in jail twice. On the other was a guy who had been a college professor in Somalia.”
It did not take long for his writing to be noticed, and writing jobs began to come his way. Bodwell has published poetry, fiction and nonfiction; he has done award-winning work for a weekly newspaper and edited a glossy magazine; he founded a printing and publishing company; publishes regularly in poetry and fiction journals and has been invited on several occasions to be writer-in-residence at Dulwich College in England.
One of Bodwell’s goals for Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance is to extend their reach within the state. As a seventh-generation Mainer, Bodwell has mixed feelings about regionalism in Maine. He is proud of his Maine ancestry (which includes a former governor and the founder of Snow’s Chowder), but he is bothered by the “illegitimate” label put upon Maine’s adopted children.
“Why should I get more credibility as a Mainer than someone who chose to come here?”
He also grows impatient with the accusations that his homeland in southern Maine isn’t “the real Maine.” He hopes to connect more Mainers from the north, Down East and western Maine through literature, and even imagines satellite offices around the state. It is all the real Maine.
Bodwell will be representing MWPA at next week’s Bangor Book Fest. Next stop will be Swan’s Island, where he will donate 73 books to their recovering library — all from Maine authors and publishers.
Maine’s cultural community will surely benefit from the experience and perspective that Bodwell brings to MWPA.
“I feel like I have to tap into separate parts of myself,” he said about his own writing. In the same way, he is working to tap into the separate parts of Maine’s cultural and literary identities, enriching all of us in the process.
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.